Eco Initiative Blog Header

Editor’s Note: This post was co-written by Catherine Lerza, Senior Consultant and Francisco Martinez, Philanthropic Advisor at Tides.

We are happy to announce that the Tides ECO (Environmental Equity, Community Opportunity) Initiative has awarded  $850,000 to 24 groups for its New Voices in Chemicals Policy program, which aims to support organizations that bring new voices into toxic chemicals policy at the local, state, and national levels.

More than 80,000 chemicals are in use in the United States today.  Since 1976, when the federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) became law, 20,000 chemicals have been introduced into our lives without any testing or safety measures.  Only a few hundred chemicals have ever been tested and only one group of chemicals—PCBs—has ever been banned at the federal level.

Over the past decade, however, mounting concerns about health and safety have led to action at the state level.  Maine, California, Washington, Minnesota, New York and others have banned specific chemicals such as brominated flame-retardants and BPA, often as part of larger efforts to protect children’s health.   At the same time, some state governments and universities are now advancing the development of new “green” chemicals and products to replace dangerous old ones.

Thanks to action at the state level, there is now a federal-level movement to enact tough new federal laws regulating toxic chemicals and to promote green, environmentally safe alternatives. After years of inaction, conversations about how to manage, regulate, control, and eliminate toxic chemicals in the environment are moving to a new level of seriousness and possibility. Much of the discussion to date has focused on environmental goals, emphasizing policy, market mechanisms, and technology. Less attention has been given to the broader social, economic, and political context in which long-term systemic solutions must be crafted. A new approach to toxic chemicals requires a fundamental transformation of the economy, social systems and political relationships, meaning that real solutions cannot emerge unless all Americans are engaged in crafting them.

To take advantage of this moment, the ECO Initiative supported catalytic work with the greatest potential to advance, expand and transform toxic chemicals policy. In 2010, ECO received a generous contribution from the Beldon Fund as part of the Fund’s visionary spend out process; this contribution enabled this first round of ECO grantmaking focused on chemicals policy and environmental health, two of the Beldon Fund’s priority concerns.  The Kendeda Sustainability and Underdog Funds of Tides Foundation also provided additional support for this program.

Priority was given to new constituencies, bridge-building initiatives and opportunities that demonstrate linkages, and groups that offer a positive vision and solutions rooted in progressive values. Other strategies valued in the decision-making process were public education, strategic communications, policy development, advocacy, leadership development, intergenerational mentoring, civic engagement, organizing, and constituency building.  Grants  ranged from $5,000 to $50,000 with an average grant size was $35,400.

The process was overseen and supported by an advisory committee of leaders  from the philanthropic, environmental health  and environmental justice fields. We would like to thank Anita Nager, Diane Ives, Judy Hatcher, Angela Park, Vanessa Daniel, Bill Mitchell, and Annie Leonard for their committed, honest, and responsive participation in the different stages of the process.

Congratulations to all of the grantees for their great work:

Alaska Community Action on Toxics

California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative

Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy

Center for Health, Environment and Justice

Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice

Ecology Center

Environmental Support Center

International Indian Treaty Council

Just Transition Alliance

Coming Clean

Movement Generation

Oregon Environmental Council

Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles

Labor Network for Sustainability

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

Environmental Health Strategy Center

Health and Environmental Funders Network

Washington Toxics Coalition

West Harlem Environmental Action

Women’s Voices for the Earth

Work Environment Council of New Jersey

BlueGreen Alliance

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Vermont Public Interest Group

Photo via the Argonne National Laboratory on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.